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Mickey & Friends

Disney Toybox
by yo go re

In 1935, Disney released On Ice, the first cartoon to feature what would eventually come to be called "the Fab Five": Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie, and Pluto. They're the studio's major stars, so they're often grouped together for events, in productions, and on merchandise, which is where this Disney Toybox set comes in.

George "Goofy" Goof appeared in 1932's Mickey's Review, where he was named "Dippy Dawg." Meant to be a one-shot character, he proved so popular with audiences (mainly because of his distinctive laugh) that Disney quickly made him a recurring character, and started putting him in his own series in 1939. In the '40s he started appearing in a series of "How To" cartoons, first as a single bechelor, then a married man, then a father, making him easily the most well-rounded member of the gang (a trend of growth and change which continued in Goof Troop and A Goofy Movie, and now into Ducktales). He's also got the most famous scream since Wilhelm!

As far as the figures in this set go, Goofy absolutely has the best design. The idea behind Disney Toybox is to make actual toys out of the Disney Infinity game pieces, so there's some stylization to be found, but Goofy comes out the most unscathed. Least scathed? The others look like Toybox figures; Goofy looks like Goofy.

Goofy's wearing his iconic outfit: floppy brown shoes, blue pants, an orange turtleneck under a black vest, and a green hat. He's got white gloves, because he's a cartoon character, and that's also where the strongest evidence of the line's stylization comes in: his fingers are squarish rather than rounded. Yep, that's it. Either his character design just lends itself to the Toybox style perfectly, or whoever sculpted the toy just went easy on him.

Goofy has joints at the ankles, knees, hips, waist, wrists, elbows, shoudlers, and head. The head is a balljoint and the waist is a swivel, but the rest are all swivel/hinges. The head is slightly limited by the fact that Goofy's got ears (being a dog and all), but for the most part you can do nearly anything with him.

Before this set, Goofy was previously available in a two-pack with his fellow second banana, Donald Duck - hopefully the only "Donald" we have to think about for a good long while. He was introduced in 1934's The Wise Little Hen, and was popular with the animators because, being an angry jerk, he was allowed do do things the softer, kind-hearted Mickey and the indifferent, laid-back Goofy never could. Like, can you imagine Mickey being rude to anybody? He's no Bugs Bunny. But Donald, on the other hand, can shout himself red in the face and it still makes sense for him. He's genuinely friends with the rest of the gang, but he's also greedy, conceited, and underhanded, which often leads to getting himself in trouble. And that's the secret to his success - we know, as an audience, that his bullying of other characters isn't really malicious at its heart (contrast that with Pete, who's just a dick for the sake of it), and that his victims will get their revenge in an appropriate proportion. That may be why he's appeared in more cartoons than any other Disney character, is one of the most popular comicbook characters in the world, and is even a licensed spokesman for orange juice and sports teams.

Donny's really been softened up for this toy. His face looks more like one of his nephews than like Donald, with big round eyes and his beak open in a smile. Compare this Donald to the last one we reviewed, and you can really see the difference. Donald's primary personality trait is his anger, so why does this toy look like he's totally happy? An alternate head would have been a good thing to make this set more unique. All it would have taken would be some angrier eyebrows.

The body's great, though. He's wearing his blue sailor suit with its red bow, white buttons, and yellow trim. The square fingers suit him, too. He's got an old-school posture with his butt sticking out behind him and his torso mostly floating over empty air in front of his legs. He's a smaller figure, so he gets less articulation: no knees. So we're talking head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, and ankles. You can pose him decently, but with one open hand and one "holding" hand (despite not coming with any accessories to hold) there's one thing you absolutely can't do with him, and that's get him into his famous fighting stance.

Although she's a mainstay now, Minnie was out of the picture for a long time. For the first decade or so of her existence she was just a damsel in distress for Pete and Mickey to quarrel over; when Mickey's personality was softened in the '40s, she began to appear more sporadically, and was eventually just a supporting character in Pluto cartoons, with her final appearance being a cameo in 1952's Pluto's Christmas Tree; it then took until 1983 for her to show up again (playing Mrs. Cratchit in Mickey's Christmas Carol), and 1988 to get to actually star in a cartoon. Who says there are no good roles for women!

Originally, Minnie was just the same model as Mickey, but with eyelashes and a hat. She didn't even wear a shirt, just a skirt, bloomers, and high heels - Walt's original drawings of her were inspired by the flappers of the 1920s (who were, for their time, very loose and scanadalous). Both Mice (Mouses?) were redesigned in the '40s, with Minnie trading her hat for the more familiar bow, and turning her skirt into a dress. Don't worry, she still spends more tim flashing her underwear than Belle Delphine - probably a hazard of the job when you've got a tail poking out from beneath your dress. Her eyes are painted looking upward, almost to Goofy's height (could it be a reference to that old "Mickey wants a divorce" joke?) She's got all the articulation, but the ankle and knee joints move a little too easily. They're not exactly loose, but they're definitely not as tight as her elbows and wrists are.

Minnie is the only figure in this set who comes with anything resembling an accessory: it's Figaro, her pet cat. Well, technically it's Geppetto's pet cat, but after the 1940 release of Pinocchio, Walt wanted the little black and white kitten to appear as much as possible, so he was transplanted from 19th-century Italy to modern... wherever Minnie lives. You might find it odd for a mouse to own a cat, but maybe she likes the danger. It gives her a thrill.

Figaro does get a little articulation, a balljointed head. You normally wouldn't expect anything on a piece like this, so that's nice. He's just sitting there sweetly with his head cocked and his eyes up, probably looking at Minnie. The ears and mouth are painted pink, and the eyes are yellow.

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me? S-T-A, L-I-N, I-O-S-I-F! Wait, that can't possibly be right. [Ooh, subvert that dominant paradigm, Banksy! --ed.] Although it's easy to forget now that he's the ultimate corporate mascot of all corporate mascots, Mickey Mouse was not originally a "safe" character. It's like when you go back and look at ancient Peanuts or Family Circus comics and find out they weren't always toothless pablum, they used to be mean and snarky and funny. The real Mickey, Walt's Mickey, was a roguish anti-hero, mischievious and self-assured, counting on his quick wits to get himself out of any trouble he got himself into. Think "Han Solo." There has to be some term for the sort of "smoothing" long-running properties undergo; it's not quite Flanderization, because it's not exaggerating a trait so much as it is downplaying it into non-existence; like how Kermit used to be a rascally prankster, while these days he's shown as more wholesome-yet-exasperated. Anyway, it's that softening that took Mickey off theater screens, because the writers couldn't think of anything for the new him to do that could be entertaining for six to eight minutes.

The 1940 redesign mentioned above in the Minnie section was done for Mickey's appearance in Fantasia - itself an attempt to restart his animated career. Although "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is considered a classic today, Fantasia was a bomb at the time, but the redesign stuck. The most prominent change, one we don't even think about today, is how what used to be his eyes suddenly became his "hairline." This toy uses that design, but there's something indefinable about the facial sculpt that makes this Mickey feel off-brand. Maybe it's the short nose, or the not-circular ears? Like, he's "Mickey-ish," but he's not "Mickey."

Whoever he is, he's wearing Mickey's clothes: large white gloves with three black lines on the back of the hands, red shorts with two huge white buttons, and clunky yellow shoes. Why the buttons? They helped differentiate the drawing's front from its back, like Crash Bandicoot's light belly, and if the shorts were a real 1930s garment, probably would have been a spot for suspenders to be attached. He's got a tail, matching the general mandate that "classic costume" Mickey has one, while "full suit of clothes" Mickey doesn't. Like his pals, Mickey moves at the ankles, knees, hips, waist, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and head, and unlike Minnie, he also moves at the tail. It doesn't seem to go all the way around, just turning to the right.

Pluto first appeared in 1931 in the short The Moose, but his design there was reused from Minnie's dog Rover in The Picnic the year before, and that was based on an unnamed bloodhound who was tracking prison escapee Mickey in The Chain Gang - so if you ever wondered what kind of dog Pluto was, there you go. If you've ever wondered how Goofy and Pluto can both be dogs while being so different, there's an old Donald Duck comic where he complains that he's not like other ducks because he's "evolved," so assume the same thing is in effect here. Heck, the shape of their faces is almost identical, with the main differences being that Goofy has a taller nose and buck teeth.

Pluto was originally a pack-in with the solo release of Mickey, so he's as unarticulated as Figaro was: just a balljointed head. He's sculpted with one ear down and one ear up, which is definitely a way he often appears in merchandise art, but that same art will typically show him with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out - this one's smug look of self-satisfaction just doesn't work as well.

Pluto is sculpted in a seated position, because that makes more sense for a figure with no articulation than standing would. His thin black tail curls up behind his back, and there are little folds of skin molded on his elbows. He's yellow and his ears are black, and his collar (a loose piece dangling around his skinny neck) is a pleasant shade of green.

These Toybox designs may not be the classic appearance for most of the characters, but it's not like anyone else is out here making true action figures of Mickey and his friends. They are, as a group, the fourth most-profitable media franchise in existence, coming in right between Pokémon ($74b) and Star Wars ($63b), but it's always clothes and plushes and suchlike, not figures. I was interested in the solo releases, but didn't bite the bullet until they were all together in this one box set (and I needed something to hit the free shipping threshhold on my Halls of Armor). Still, now I'm hoping Disney will make a Daisy Duck, to turn this Fab Five into the Sensational Six. And maybe a big Pete, so they have an antagonist.

-- 01/20/21

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